What should we think about the years of the Cold War if we knew – late – that a couple of countries had the possibility of checking all the information issued by the others, even the most secret, even the most untrustworthy ones? What should we also think if, theoretically, these countries were part of our own alliance, but with an attitude of this type they evidently placed themselves on another level of knowledge? Finally, what should we think of our own secret services if it were clear and that their communications were – with a certain basic naivety – entrusted to a company without having made the necessary checks on this same company?
What emerges from a joint report by the Washington Post and the German ZDF it is exactly the picture described in these lines: two countries (United States and West Germany) would have had in hand a Swiss company whose work in the world of cryptography would bring together customers from all over the world. Exactly: all with the same cryptographic service, all therefore perfectly controllable by the two powers secretly united behind this project.
This is not a perfectly new story: since the beginning of the millennium books have been published on the issue and on how the United States has been able to leverage the information gained from third countries over time. However, the two publications now carry out new documentation, new tests and new testimonies that detail the way in which everything took place, circumscribes the interests of a deal of this type and explains how it could have remained hidden from most for so long.
One encryption for everyone
Code name "Thesaurus", Later became"Rubicon": Write down these names, they could one day be the right titles for a TV series about the spies of the 70s. A story that starts from the post-war period, which brings together the USA and Germany and manages to subjugate intelligence from around the world thanks to a cryptography system considered to be avant-garde, but in reality controlled in an extremely secret way by the emissaries of the two countries. The system in question is that of Crypto AG, a company that has been suspected for years, but whose history has never officially surfaced. The offices still deny any charge, making it clear that, if there was something, it was behind and betraying the work of those who were working for the safety of customers and their missives.
It's Italy? Yes, there is also Italy among the countries using Crypto systems, just as there would be the Vatican. There is no France, there is no United Kingdom, but there is the rest of the European world. The group's dominance extends to almost all of South America, but nothing can be done in Russia, China and Northern Europe. According to what emerged, as many as 120 countries around the world would have used this type of solution – in its various declinations in continuous technological evolution – between 1950 and 2000. The company also enjoyed excellent health: the apparent quality was palatable and the perception was that of great security. Hence the strong flows of money that flowed into the group, but at the same time the situation of what, more than a company, now appears to be a great backdoor, becomes even more paradoxical.
Things started to get worse at the end of the millennium, when money started to fail and the group would have maintained more or less evident US investments. At this stage, the Germans would have slipped away, leaving control of the operation to the US while most of the customers were moving away from systems now targeted for too many suspects accumulated. But that is the end of a parable that, in all probability, gave the United States unparalleled power in the previous years: the 70s-80s they are those of Iran and Latin America, they are those of reversed and rebuilt regimes, they are those of the Falklands and balances in the Middle East. Impossible to estimate the value of secret information potentially stolen in those years.
Evidence of the consistency of these doubts would emerge in 1986 when Reagan ordered the attack on Libya as a result of an attack on German soil: the then US President would have accused Libya on the basis of irrefutable evidence, which would have been connected the interception of the letters between the attackers and the central power in the country under Gaddafi. How did this interception take place? The answer is given today by the Washington Post and the answer is "Crypto".
The end of Crypto AG is certainly not the end of wiretapping, although it closes a page written in an unpleasant and very naive ink. The revelations of Snowden, with Angela Merkel's cell phone guarded by US technologies, and later the tug of war over the 5G between the US and China will come again. At the center of all the secrecy of communications, the strength of cryptography and the fallacy of technology in guaranteeing absolute certainties in this sense. A story that began years earlier with Turing's work on Enigma it would become an incredible novel in the Crypto years. Today, in hindsight, with the information that has emerged in the Washington Post at this time, there is enough material to partially rewrite long sections of the history of the second half of the 1900s. Waiting to understand which naivety and which distortions are diverting our awareness of the present. Starting from the Bezos case, of course.